WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian

Brazil's Neymar, Croatia's Luka Modric and France's Benjamin Pavard. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2018
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WORLD CUP REVIEW: Magic Luka Modric, Paul Pogba perfection and a blundering Brazilian

  • Our goals, players, and team of the tournament

France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday was the best World Cup final since 1982 and closed out what was a brilliant, drama-packed tournament. Here we look back at the past four and half weeks in Russia to give you our highlights of a memorable month.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT — Belgium 3-2 Japan

In a tournament packed with tense, closely fought matches this was easily the most dramatic. With 21 minutes to go Belgium’s “Golden Generation” were 2-0 down and staring at a shock second-round exit at the hands of Japan. But they proved that alongside the flair and finesse, they also had backbone as strikes from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini levelled the score before 90 minutes. That then set up a memorable finale as the Red Devils brilliantly counterattacked in added time with Romulu Lukaku dummying for Nacer Chadli to fire home the late winner. Subs bench: France 4-3 Argentina, Spain 3-3 Portugal, Spain 2-2 Morocco.

PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Luka Modric

There was a moment in Croatia’s 2-1 extra-time win against England where the midfield maestro’s legs had clearly gone and he was running on pure adrenaline. Yet, even after 105 minutes Modric still went in search of the ball, still looked to create the all-important winner, he never gave up and never looked anything other than pure class. That summed up the entire tournament for the Real Madrid man, and although he ended up on the losing side in the final he was easily the most impressive player in Russia. Subs bench: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard.

GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT — Benjamin Pavard - vs. Argentina, second round 

There are certain ingredients you need to win goal of the tournament. A touch of brilliant technique, a dollop of great team play, a slice of “did you just see that” reaction, and for it to come at an important time in the match. Pavard’s volley from 30 yards had all four of those in abundance: 2-1 down to Argentina in the second-round clash, Les Bleus were in need of a bit of magic and while Mbappe rightly took many of the plaudits for his two goals, it was Pavard’s strike that galvanized the French and set them on their way to World Cup glory. Subs bench: Nacho (Spain vs. Portugal), Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal vs. Spain), Nacer Chaldli (Belgium vs. Japan), Toni Kroos (Germany vs. Sweden).

SHOCK OF THE TOURNAMENT — Germany’s early exit

If anyone tells you they thought the defending champions would not get out of the group, there is a very high chance that they are lying. They were ranked No.1 and, while they came into the tournament with a few issues (Leroy Sane dropped, Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan’s photo op with Turkish president Recep Erdogan), no one thought they would depart as early as they did. They were outclassed by Mexico, needed a last-minute winner against Sweden and looked clueless during their 2-0 defeat to South Korea — it was as embarrassing as it was surprising.

LOSER OF THE TOURNAMENT — Neymar

Where do we start? We could go with the pathetic diving and play acting which would have shamed a four-year-old, the fact he rarely hit the heights that would befit the most expensive player in the history of the game, or we could go with his ridiculous haircut. But what most embarrassed him was his naked narcissism. The fact is that Philippe Coutinho was Brazil’s best player in Russia, but Neymar insisted on taking all the free kicks and being the center of attention. The sooner he realizes that football is a team game and that there are players as good, if not better, than him then the sooner Brazil may win the World Cup again. As long as they pander to Neymar’s inflated opinion of himself they have little chance.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT. (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper — Jordan Pickford (England): Was the star of England’s unexpected march to the semifinals.

Defense — Raphael Varane (France): The best player in the best defense of the whole tournament, sheer class. Harry Maguire (England): Made a name for himself in Russia, will be around for many years to come. Diego Godin (Uruguay): As dominant and solid a defender as you are likely to find.

Midfield — Thomas Meunier (Belgium): In a side packed full of attacking talent Meunier proved one of the most dangerous attackers from deep. Ivan Perisic (Croatia): Brilliant on the ball and always a threat, Perisic was one of the key men behind Croatia’s run to the final. Luka Modric (Croatia): The best player on the ball in Russia was also the best player in the tournament. Paul Pogba (France): How Manchester United fans will wish he could reproduce his mature and dominating performances in Russia for them. Eden Hazard (Belgium): The best dribbler in Russia was always a constant menace for opposition defenses.

Forwards — Kylian Mbappe (France): It is frightening to think just how good he can become. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium): All his goals came from open play and was one of the key reasons behind Belgium’s good tournament.

Subs bench: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Yerry Mina (Colombia), Kieran Trippier (England), N’Golo Kante (France), Denis Cheryshev (Russia), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay).


From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

Updated 25 April 2019
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From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

  • Race will start in Jeddah and make a stop in Riyadh before ending in Qiddiya
  • Take a look back at the most momentous moments

LONDON: A new and exciting chapter in the prestigious history of the Dakar Rally is ready to be written as the world’s biggest and most challenging rally confirmed it will debut in Saudi Arabia in January 2020.

1977: Inspiration
Biker Thierry Sabine gets lost in the Libyan desert while competing in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. After being rescued from the sands on the verge of death, he vows to share the scale and magic of the desert with the whole world.

1978: A dream come true
On 26 December 1978, a field of 170 adventurers starts its 10,000-kilometer quest through Algeria, Niger, Mali, the Upper Volta, and Senegal. A total of 74 vehicles make it to the finish on Place de l’Indépendance in Dakar, with Cyril Neveu at the helm.

1983: Ickx on all fronts
Celebrities and the best drivers and riders in the world heed the call of the Dakar. The combination is a successful one, with the six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Jacky Ickx and comedian Claude Brasseur taking the spoils in the fourth edition.

1986: Tragedy strikes
Thierry Sabine and Daniel Balavoine die in a helicopter crash alongside pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, journalist Nathalie Odent and radio technician Jean-Paul Lefur. Gilbert Sabine, the father of the creator of the race, takes over as director.

1992: Africa from north to south
The Dakar takes a break from the capital of Senegal to pit the competitors against the challenge of a lifetime. The drivers and riders have to tackle a route of almost 12,500 kilometers through 11 countries to cross Africa from one side to the other and reach Cape Town in South Africa. Stéphane Peterhansel (motorbikes) and Hubert Auriol (cars) stand atop the podium at the end of the Odyssey.

1998: Peterhansel rolls a six
The biker with a blue bandana emerges victorious from a clash of titans with Orioli and Arcarons to become the undisputed master of the category in the 1990s. His sixth win catapults him past Cyril Neveu as the event record holder. “Peter” has since added seven car victories to his tally!

2000: At the foot of the pyramids
The Dakar marks the turn of the century next to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Reigning champions Richard Sainct (motorbikes) and Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) both manage to defend their titles against this prestigious backdrop.

2001: Miss Dakar
No one suspects that this will be the last Paris–Dakar. In contrast, everyone sees Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had made her Dakar debut in 1988 on a motorbike, become the first woman to win the rally, this time racing at the wheel of a Mitsubishi 4×4. She remains the only female winner of the event to date.

2009: Rising from the ashes in Buenos Aires
The Dakar picks itself up and crosses the Atlantic to rise from the ashes. A new era dawns with 4 million spectators turning out in force to cheer on the drivers and riders in the majestic landscapes of Argentina and Chile.

2012: Pacific Challenge
After three years with a route starting and ending in Buenos Aires, the organizers break the mold with a finish on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru.

2014: Dizzying heights
Bolivia becomes the 28th country to host the Dakar. The Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni introduce a new test for the competitors: extreme altitude, which takes a toll on both their bodies and their machines.

2020: Chapter 3
In the wake of its first foray into Paraguay in 2017, the Dakar adds the 30th country to its list. In Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the competitors will face challenges such as the “Empty Quarter,” a pristine expanse that has never been explored fully before.